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Iowa History Daily: June 21 - Jessie Field Founds 4-H

Iowa History Daily: On June 21, 1881, “The Mother of 4-H,” Celestia Josephine Field Shambaugh (Jessie Field) was born on Sunnyside Farm near Shenandoah. Designer of the iconic original three-clover-leaf logo (head, hands, heart; and eventually a fourth for home/health), Field’s career as an educator and activist continues to inspire Iowans today.

Born to Sol and Celestia Field, both teachers, Jessie grew up with six siblings on the farm in the extreme southwestern corner of Iowa. A strong student, Field graduated from Shenandoah High School in 1899 and initially attended the Western Normal College of Shenandoah.

As a 19-year old, Field got a job teaching at Clarinda’s Goldenrod School in Page County’s Fremont Township during 1901. Field started after-school programs in the hope of providing additional support for her rural pupils. The Boys Corn Club and the Girls Home Club represent the forerunners to today’s 4-H.

After returning to college to obtain a Bachelor of Arts from Tabor College, Field briefly left the state to serve as principal of Jefferson School in Helena, Montana. However, she returned to Iowa in 1906 to take a job as Page County’s superintendent of schools. For $33.50 monthly, Field oversaw 130 county schools in the county.

Building on the earlier clubs at the Goldenrod School, Field introduced competitions in areas including soil testing and corn judging while also starting county-wide junior achievement shows. She designed a three-leaf clover pin with Hs on each leaf to motivate students to strive toward excellence. The work caught the attention of the National Commissioner of Education, leading to the proliferation of the after-school clubs and the formation of a national 4-H institution in 1912.

Jessie Field eventually served as the secretary for the YWCA. She also hosted a radio show called “The Mother’s Hour”, and authored at least two textbooks. The post office in Clarinda, Iowa, was renamed in her honor during 2021. The organization she created went on to serve an important role for many Iowans, and still boasts a membership of over 6.5 million today. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar

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